High Blood Pressure

Also known as hypertension. This means the pressure in your arteries is consistently above the normal range. Blood pressure is written as two numbers, such as 122/78. The top number is the pressure when the heart beats, called "systolic". The bottom number is the pressure when the heart rests between beats, called "diastolic". Your blood pressure is considered "High" when it reaches 140 systolic or higher and/or 90 diastolic or higher. There are normally no other signs of high blood pressure. So it's important to see your doctor every year for a checkup. High blood pressure can lead to hardened arteries, stroke or heart attack.

Hardening of the Arteries

Also known as atherosclerosis. This is when your arteries become too narrow due to buildup. This buildup is usually caused by a fatty diet, smoking cigarettes, diabetes or hypertension. This limits the flow of blood to the heart and brain. Sometimes, this buildup can break open. When this happens, a blood clot forms and blocks blood flow in the artery. This can cause a heart attack or even stroke.

Heart Attacks

These occur when blood flow to your heart is blocked, usually by a blood clot. If not treated quickly, the heart muscle begins to die. Each year almost 800,000 Americans have a heart attack.

The following are the most common signs and symptoms of a heart attack:

  • Chest discomfort.
    It is often in the center or left side of the chest. It usually lasts more than a few minutes. It may go away and come back. It can feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain. It also can feel like heartburn or indigestion.
  • Shortness of breath.
    Sometimes this is your only symptom. You may get it before or during the chest discomfort. It can happen when you are resting or doing a little bit of physical activity.
  • Discomfort in the upper body.
    You may feel pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, shoulders, neck, jaw, or upper part of the stomach.

Other symptoms include: nausea, vomiting, dizziness, lightheadedness, and a cold sweat. Sometimes women will have different symptoms than men. For example, they are more likely to feel fatigued for no reason.

Heart Failure

This means that your heart isn’t pumping blood properly. Heart failure does not mean that your heart has stopped or is about to stop working. But the body doesn’t get all the blood and oxygen it needs. Common causes of heart failure are coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. It is more common in people who are 65 years old or older, African Americans, people who are overweight, and people who have had a heart attack. Men have a higher rate of heart failure than women.


This happens when a blood vessel that feeds the brain gets blocked or bursts. Without blood, brain cells begin to die. "Mini-strokes" or transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), occur when the blood supply to the brain is briefly interrupted.

Major risk factors for stroke include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Heart disease
  • Abnormal heart rhythm